Mr. President, on Monday the Senate will vote on the nomination of Congresswoman Deb Haaland to serve as Secretary of the Interior. This is truly an historic moment. I’ve voted on a lot of nominations over the years. I’ve never felt more proud to support a nominee than I do right now supporting Congresswoman Haaland.
I could be here all weekend talking about what she represents and the opportunities that lie ahead for the Interior Department, public lands and rural communities. But I’ll share just a few key points.
First, Congresswoman Haaland understands that protecting public lands and boosting rural communities and jobs are two sides of the same coin.
For too long, one side in the debate about rural jobs has said that you can’t have jobs and protect our national treasures at the same time. There’s been an all-out effort to block conservation and protect the interests of oil and gas and other polluting industries at taxpayer expense – and at the expense of clean air, clean water and everybody who wants to get outdoors. That side of the debate props up dirty, declining industries that are adding to the current climate crisis.
In the long run it hurts these rural communities, because it keeps them economically hooked on dying industries and sends much of the financial benefit to executives and shareholders outside of those communities and those states. That just adds to the urban-rural divide and to inequality in America, and it’s not a long-term solution for the rural economy.
Congresswoman Haaland knows that there’s a better way to protect and create rural jobs – it’s an issue we talked about in our meeting and during the hearing with the Energy Committee. For example, Congressman Neguse and I have introduced our proposal to create a 21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps. Our bill would create thousands of jobs in rural America, and those workers would help preserve public lands and prevent the kinds of massive wildfire infernos we’ve seen in recent years. Imagine, colleagues, how many local businesses – restaurants and bars, hardware stores and mom and pop shops – could benefit from the arrival of thousands of Civilian Conservation Corps workers. On top of that, you’d have more opportunities for outdoor recreation, boosting tourism revenues, and fewer communities would be reduced to ash by wildfire. It’s a win all around.
The bill also includes much needed funding to help Native American Tribes across the country build and repair drinking water infrastructure, prioritizing projects where a lack of drinking water is threatening the health of Tribal members.
This is particularly a problem in Oregon, where the Warm Springs Tribe has burst pipes and regular boil water notices, but this issue is widespread in Tribal communities across the county. Congresswoman Haaland understands that water is a human right. I’ve talked with her about this proposal. It’s exactly the kind of commonsense pro-equity, pro-rural jobs legislation she wants to get behind as Interior Secretary, and I’m thankful to have her support for it.
Second point about Congresswoman Haaland – she’s got a proven record of bringing the two sides together, and she’s committed to keeping that up as Secretary. Some members of the Senate have tried to accuse her of being some kind of far-out radical. That just doesn’t pass the smell test. She’s got a record of bipartisan legislative wins. She’s got the support of Republicans here in the Senate. She’s got one of the most conservative members of the House singing her praises. So the idea that she’s some kind of radical just doesn’t hold up.
Another great example of her steadfast belief in bringing people together, she committed to working with me to advance my Malheur County Owyhee legislation, which brought together ranchers, Tribes, and the environmental community to focus on priorities that would protect one of Oregon’s most special places and benefit rural communities in Eastern Oregon. I look forward to working with Congresswoman Haaland to advance this legislation.
I’ve sat through a lot of nominations hearings in my time in the Senate. I’m not sure I can recall another hearing in which a nominee held up with such backbone and decency while the other side was attacking her. At times, it was hard to stomach. But I give Congresswoman Haaland a lot of credit for her perseverance, her knowledge and her calm. That’s not easy.
Members of the Senate are always going to have disagreements on policy with each other and with nominees from the other party. But there ought to be a level of decency and respect shown toward each other and toward nominees when they come before committees. It’s clear to me that Congresswoman Haaland is going to bring that kind of fundamental decency every day as Interior Secretary.
The last point I’ll make is this. After the last four years – and two infamous secretaries – the Interior Department needs a Secretary who’s going to follow the law, lead with integrity, be guided by science, and do what’s right for all Americans and the public lands they treasure. That’s not what the American people got from the previous administration. Under their leadership, the Interior Department did the bidding of political donors and the dirtiest industries out there – even when it ran afoul of the law.
Oregonians and people all across this country can trust Congresswoman Haaland to do much, much better. She qualified. She’s fair. She’s committed to working together on solutions that create rural jobs and protect our public lands at the same time. And she’s an historic nominee, because it’s long past time this country had a Native American leading the Interior Department.
Congresswoman Haaland has my full, unqualified support. I’m very much looking forward to working with her. And I urge all members of the Senate to support her nomination.